TWL RD 21 PREVIEW: WARRIORS V DRAGONS

ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA DRAGONS V NEW ZEALAND WARRIORS – 5.00PM (NZT)/3.00PM (AEST) SATURDAY, AUGUST 4 AT WIN STADIUM, WOLLONGONG

The Storylines: After two highly promising outings – an authoritative win over Brisbane and a gutsy loss to Melbourne – the Warriors slipped back into their Jekyll-and-Hyde guise with a second-half capitulation to Gold Coast nobody saw coming.

The embarrassing 36-12 result against the Titans represented the Warriors’ first loss in 2018 to one of the NRL’s current bottom-eight and their first defeat after leading at halftime. The performances of Shaun Johnson, the returning Leivaha Pulu, and teenage second-rowers Isaiah Papali’i and Joseph Vuna were the only bright spots.

The negatives from their fourth loss in five games were plentiful: shocking edge defence, intercept passes, lack of energy, poor option-taking in attack, handling errors. Stephen Kearney summed it up when he called his side ‘soft’.

The Warriors dropped to outright eighth with Wests Tigers looming ominously four points behind, despite their own shock loss to an also-ran.

Mercifully, Issac Luke, Adam Blair and Tohu Harris return, adding more than 100 Tests’ worth of experience to the pack as they line up against fourth-placed St George Illawarra in Wollongong, where the Warriors have never beaten the joint venture.

But the Dragons are striving to climb out of their own mini-slump. The long-time competition leaders have lost three of their last four, with a 36-18 pummelling at the hands of Sydney Roosters really denting their premiership credentials.

The Warriors have a shocking record in their rivalry with the Saints – particularly on the road – but will be squeezing every drop of confidence possible out of their stirring 20-12 win in Auckland earlier this season.

They are two most prolific offloading teams in the NRL and the side that harnesses second-phase play most effectively will be well-placed to go on with the job. But first a platform must be laid, and the Dragons, with a England Test great and four current NSW stars in their starting pack, seem to have the edge there. The Warriors’ engine-room goes from dynamic and dominant to meek and muddled, and back again, in seven-day cycles.

The visitors have to come out firing to be any chance.

The Warriors’ trump card is their remarkable penchant for a bounce-back in 2018. There’s been some dreadful losses, but after each of their previous defeats by 20-plus margins they’ve responded with an outstanding win in the follow round.

The History: Played 27 – St George Illawarra won 21, Warriors won 6.

The Stats

-The Warriors have never beaten the St George Illawarra Dragons in Wollongong in 10 visits.
-The Dragons are 15-1 against the Warriors at venues other than Mount Smart, with the only loss at Kogarah Oval in 2007.
-The Dragons have won 15 of the last 17 clashes between the clubs at all venues, though the Warriors have won two of the last four.
-Five of the teams’ last seven encounters were decided by margins of 14 points or more.
-David Fusitu’a has never scored against the Dragons, just one of two clubs he is yet to put a try on.

3 Key Match-ups 

Shaun Johnson v Ben Hunt: Johnson was electric in the first half last week and was the only Warriors player who looked likely as his teammates crumbled around him after the break. Hunt’s underwhelming Origin campaign has seemingly taken the sting out of his form at Origin level. Neither No.7 is going to win an award for consistency but both rank among the most potent, brilliant game-breakers in the NRL.

Adam Blair v Jack De Belin: The Warriors were crying out for the suspended Blair’s steel and leadership in the middle last week, with Simon Mannering disturbingly anonymous in the No.13. Against a pack laded with NSW Origin stars – including opposite number De Belin – Blair needs to continue the strong form and better numbers he was producing prior to his short judiciary holiday.

Issac Luke v Cameron McInnes: McInnes gives the Dragons great stability and work-rate in the middle, as well as underrated creativity and game-breaking class – but he is a few rungs behind Luke in the latter categories. ‘Bully’ was unbelievable in the Warriors’ Round 7 upset of the Dragons, coming up with a 40/20 and subsequent dummy-half try that virtually won the match for his side. The Warriors have struggled whenever he hasn’t been on the field so hopefully a week off was enough to repair his injuries – because Jazz Tevaga is not cutting it as a dummy-half fill-in. Expect a big one from Luke…even if it isn’t his 250th.

Last Time They Met: Despite the absence of Shaun Johnson, the Warriors carved out one of the finest victories in the club’s history in Round 7 of 2018, a 20-12 win over the previously undefeated Saints. Issac Luke was on fire, while stand-ins Mason Lino and Anthony Gelling also starred in the upset.

The Punt: NZ TAB Odds – Head to Head: Dragons $1.45, Warriors $2.60 (Line: Dragons -7.5)

The Dragons have covered 10 of 16 at Wollongong. The Dragons have covered 23 of 33 at their two suburban home grounds. The Dragons have covered 9 of 12 day games at their suburban home grounds. The Warriors have covered just 9 of 22 away from Mt Smart off a loss of 7+.

FULL TAB PREVIEW  | TAB PUNTERS LOUNGE – NRL

TWL’s Tips – Warriors +7.5 @ $1.87
-Dragons 1-12 @ $3.00
-Dragons/Dragons @ $1.70
-Total Points – Under 41.5 @ $1.87
-Either Side 6 & Under or Draw @ $2.90
-Shaun Johnson To Score a Try @ $3.40

LISTEN: TAB NRL PODCAST – THE ADVANTAGE LINE

The Verdict: Despite the horrors of the second 40 minutes at Robina, there’s plenty of cause for optimism for Warriors fans: the return of three high-performing Test veterans; the bounce-back factor that has delivered on several occasions this year already; their win over the Saints earlier this year; and their hosts’ dusty recent form. But they are unmistakably up against it at a bogey venue against a bogey team. The Dragons will be equally desperate and we’re expecting this to be an absolute September-style dog-fight that goes down to the wire. Unfortunately, it shapes as a task just beyond a Warriors side that needs to recalibrate, and for the first time since the Round 1 preview we’re tipping against our boys. Dragons by 4

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